Thursday, April 9, 2015

F is For Full Metal Alchemist


Full Metal Alchemist is a story about two brothers trying to reclaim their lost humanity. Along the way they make numerous friends and enemies and wind up in a much larger scale of events than they had ever anticipated.

The series has proven very popular. There are two separate animes on it. While this is not unusual (see Gundam), the fact that they came out so close together is a little unusual. There is also a lengthy manga. I stopped reading a while ago as I had caught up to the series and after watching the new anime, will have to go back and catch up on it all over again.

One of the things that's great about Fullmetal Alchemist, is the world building. By making the characters Edward and Alphone, into specialist in a field of specialist, the viewers are able to have numerous favorites. There are different named characters like the 'Crimson Alchemist' or the 'Flame Alchemist'. Some very impressive sounding names.

These named characters also have named maneuvers and abilities. This puts them into a category that is above the standard soldier. In many ways, this makes them perfect classes with each type of class having a different specialization.

Because they work for the government, they also automatically have a patron. This prevents the Game Master from having to work too hard in order to get the characters involved with the adventure.

When a setting gives you an "in" like this, it can make running the campaign easier. In the classic game, Legend of the Five Rings, one of the suggestions is to make the characters Emerald Magistrates. This allows the game to get moving without the dreaded "You all meet in a bar" standard. In newer games, Spears of the Dawn has a similar option in that the title, Spears of the Dawn, is an actual title of those who fought against monsters and are well respected.

Ed and Al have their own motivations though. In this case, it is to get their bodies back. To do this, they need to do research. This involves them going to different research faculties and studying. While that could be boring, the writer showcases several small bits that are anything but ranging from a burned down library, to a random encounter with a former state alchemist who knows more than he's telling.

By having both options, player driven quests, and the ability to introduce patron level quests, the Game Master has the best of both worlds. Indeed, if the characters are having too easy a time of getting their own deeds, the Game Master can add complications through the patron. They may have to do some standard guard duty instead of hunting down that serial killer.

Of course players will seek to work around such restrictions but that's the point. The conflict of trying to do what they want against what others want them to do, is how the game creates a sense of tension.

The setting that Fullmetal takes place in, is one that has a variety of creatures that themselves can be different than one another. For example, Alphonse does not have a body, but rather, his soul is bonded to a suit of armor. During the series, we discover that there are others like this.

There are also combinations of men and animal known as chimeria. Each one potentially different than the others.

Then there are the Seven Sins. Some of these are 'standard' like Lust and Gluttony while others are a bit more friendly than you'd think.

The setting is large enough to weave numerous threats that the characters can't overcome just with punching or kicking.

Despite the grim overtones the series carries, the writer is able to weave quite a bit of humor into it. This should be something that a Game Master keeps in mind when prepping his own work. Even as plagues and zombies take over the land, there needs to be some genuinely funny things. Perhaps someone has a favorite cup that he dropped and is always talking about it. "My favorite cup!"

The humor helps break down the gruesome elements and gives the viewer a break and allows the reader to recharge her batteries.

Another element to note, is that there are changing alliances. One of the most popular characters here is Scar, named (originally!) after his scarred face. He's a tough loner who hates the heroes! This type of anti-hero is fairly common and the anime/manga Dragon Ball Z is littered with characters who once fought against Goku but now work alongside him.

When designing your NPCs, are there 'hooks' that the characters can use to turn them from enemies to friends? Are there deeds that the characters can perform to show these foes that the players are not the true enemies?

Have any other gamers used Fullmetal Alchemist as inspiration for their games? If so, how did it go? I have friends who are enamored of the art style in the series and love the animated suits of armor as well as some of the villains the characters face.